Headphone buying guide

Ryan’s headphone buying guide will help you to find the perfect headphones, within your budget. Don’t let misleading advertising or shoddy manufacturers rip you off.

There are several different types of headphones available on the market. The main ones are earbuds, on-ear, over-ear and noise cancelling. Read on below for the pros and cons of each variety. We’ve also got our top picks for a big or small budget.

Earbuds

Also known as in-ear headphones, these come in two varieties – they either sit in the outer ear or are inserted into the ear canal. You can usually tell which type they are by checking for removable rubber tips. If they have these, they will typically be inserted into the ear canal.

Pros:

  • very portable
  • typically quite affordable
  • will not cause discomfort for glasses wearers
  • noise isolation, meaning you won’t hear too much of the outside world; models which are inserted into the ear canal are especially good for this.

Cons:

  • cords have a habit of getting tangled
  • small size means that speaker quality is typically not comparable to other types
  • can be uncomfortable for some wearers.


On-ear

These headphones sit on the outside of your ears, and are held in place by a band that runs over the top of your head, but occasionally some models are held in place by ear clips.

Pros:

  • good sound quality, although not as good as over-ear models
  • very portable
  • typically, will not cause discomfort for glasses wearers.

Cons:

  • poor noise isolation, meaning you will hear much of the outside world, although this is a positive for some situations, such as bike-riding or walking/running on footpaths
  • because of poor noise isolation, if you have these headphones turned up loud, nearby people may be able to hear sounds coming from your headphones.


Over-ear

These headphones are large and will cover your entire ear, usually creating a tight seal around your head to prevent any outside noise from getting in. They are held in place by a thick headband and can be a little heavy.

Pros:

  • very good sound quality
  • very good sound isolation, which means you can listen to music quietly without the outside world interrupting.

Cons:

  • larger models aren’t very portable
  • some users may experience discomfort and/or hot ears, and those who wear glasses may experience significant discomfort.


Noise-cancelling

Noise-cancelling headphones are available in all of the types listed above. What sets them apart is that they include anti-noise technology to cancel background noise. It works wonderfully for cancelling out the noise from heaters or air-conditioners, as well as airplane cabin noise. If you are a nervous flier, you should consider looking into noise-cancelling headphones, as they can help to ease anxiety and let you relax on your flight.

Pros:

  • terrific for travelling
  • noise cancellation means you don’t have to turn the volume all the way up to hear things.

Cons:

  • require batteries
  • some users find the noise-cancelling hum to be disorienting.

Click NEXT to see our tips on buying and our top recommendations in each category. Whether you’re looking for an affordable option or ready to splash some cash, we’ve got you covered.

Tips on buying

‘Try before you buy’ is the way to go with headphones. So if you find an electronics store that stocks any headphones you’ve shortlisted, it’s worth finding out if you can give them a test run. Listening to a familiar song is the best way to gauge their quality. You’ll also want to make sure they’re comfortable. If you experience a little discomfort during a quick wear in a shop, it’s likely that you’ll experience a lot of discomfort over a long session of wearing. If trying them on isn’t an option, check with retailers to see if they accept returns on headphones, and buy from a retailer that does.

Online prices are hugely competitive, but unfortunately headphones are easy targets for fake reproductions. So if anything is significantly marked down from retail price, make sure you’re not being scammed. The best way to ensure you don’t fall victim to this is to check for reviews from other buyers and try to stick to reliable sellers. A quick Google search for ‘(insert headphone name here) fake’ will usually come up with a guide or comparison between real and fake models. Compare the photos to the ones at which you are looking to see if they’re the real deal, and ask the seller for close-up pictures if you’re still not sure. 

Earbuds

Best low budget:

Panasonic Ergofit (HJE125E) in-ear

Available in several different colours, these earbuds are simple and affordable. They also come with different sizes of replaceable earbuds to cater to different ear sizes.

Price: $20, available from Dick Smith.

Best high budget:

Sennheiser Momentum M2 (in-ear)

These earbuds come with a terrific design and a sturdy carry case, one of the best options for earbuds under the $200 mark, you won’t be disappointed with their sound quality. They also include a remote on the cord as well as a microphone, making them great for smartphone and tablet users. Four different size tips will ensure that you find the right ones for your ears.

Price: $169, available from JB HiFi.

On-ear

Best low budget:

Koss PortaPro

Released in 1984, these headphones have stayed the same in both design and price. They are small, portable, durable, sound great and come with a lifetime warranty, no receipt necessary. I’ve owned a pair of these headphones for a few years, and, in my opinion, they’re the best quality headphones you can get for under $100. They have a unique design that places pressure above your ears, which, as a glasses wearer, I really appreciate.

Price: Can be picked up for as little as $50, but watch out for fakes.

Best high budget:

Beyerdynamic T51i

These headphones are sleek and feature a lightweight, mostly metal design. A convenient cord remote allows you to control volume and music, and a two-year warranty will cover you if anything breaks. Most importantly, the sound quality is phenomenal.

Price: $400

Over-ear

Best low budget:

Panasonic RP-HTX7

These retro-styled headphones are available in several different colours, and the design is straightforward, affordable and durable. The sound quality is impressive for the price and they’re both lightweight and comfortable.

Price: Around $55

Best high budget:

Sony MDR-1A

These full-size headphones deliver the best sound quality you can get from any type of headphones – and they’ll blow you away with their sound quality. An update of the MDR-1R model, the MDR-1A brings quality improvements as well as a replaceable cord that allows you to swap between a standard cord and one with a customisable smartphone remote.

Price: $350

Noise-cancelling

Best low budget:

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC29 QuietPoint (over-ear)

Noise-cancelling headphones are quite complicated and therefore more expensive than standard headphones. So even a low-end pair is going to cost a bit. These Audio-Technica headphones are a great all-rounder for those on a budget, and the sound quality is pretty good. Although they aren’t as comfortable as the Bose headphones mentioned below, they’re certainly not uncomfortable. The headphones come with a two-year warranty and take a single AAA battery that last 30+ hours.

Price: $120

Best high budget:

Bose QC25 (over-ear)

These headphones are fantastic for noise cancellation whilst flying, and although the sound quality isn’t perfect, it won’t disappoint. They’re also very comfortable for long sessions – even if you wear glasses – which is a main priority for travelling. They come with a sturdy case and an adapter that allows you to use them on airplanes. QC25s require AAA batteries, and each one will last 30+ hours. You can also use the headphones without the noise-cancellation functionality, which doesn’t require a battery.

Price: $400, but you might spot them in duty free for $350 or less.

Written by ryanbo



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